Last year, Sybille van Kempen released the Bridgehampton Inn Look + Cook Book, an ode both to the restaurant and to the people who had created it. The book was a compilation of recipes, but it was also a look inside the inn that had stood tall through four decades of Hamptons life.
Van Kempen, who also owns the iconic Loaves & Fishes store, next door, learned in the process of developing the book that she had more to share. “I was so aware of my weekly menu planning at Loaves & Fishes, and how that is affected by the local farmers and their ingredients,” she said. “This is something I have done organically forever, yet I never considered sharing this age-old process with the cooking community.”
A little over a year later, van Kempen is back, along with co-author Licia Kassim Householder, this time with individual cookbooks, which are known as the Farm Series Cookbook Collection, and which offer insight into the personal stories that make up the backbone of the East End’s community. These cookbooks are organized seasonally. The first release is a series of three “summer” books, highlighting three separate farms.
“When I began reaching out to our local farmers about my idea to write individual books, with each one sharing a bit of their passion and story from my perspective, they were all excited,” she said. “I don’t think they actually totally believed me until I placed the pre-production copy in their hands.”
Van Kempen’s launch of her cookbook series arrives at a moment in time when people are cooking—and in a serious way. The Covid-19 pandemic has unleashed in many a renewed love for the kitchen (and, for others, a first-time passion). If the cookbook, as a genre, treads between the literary and the useful, this happens to be the time when it is ever the latter. People are cooking, more than ever, and are hungry for inspiration from those they look to for comfort. To van Kempen, this feels like a call to action. “These times of isolation have created a renewed focus and action in food accountability,” she said. “My choice to spotlight farmers and their high-quality ingredients in our recipes is timeless, and can apply to everyone.”
The spirit of Loaves & Fishes is, as always, one of family. Van Kampen’s mother, Anna Pump—herself trained by James Beard—purchased the store in 1980, after moving to the area from northern Germany, by way of New Jersey. Pump died tragically in the fall of 2015, but her legacy lives on through her daughter, who continues to champion family in all aspects of the business.
“We worked side-by-side for 36 years,” van Kempen said. “That’s so much passion given every day to our employees, our customers, and, at the end of each day, to each other. I learned to appreciate and respect the hard work of our farmers from her.” The brand that started with Pump—a single store—now includes four companies and van Kempen’s publishing team, an astounding tale of success.
The Farm Series Cookbooks, which come in sets of three, are created monthly, and feature visits to individual Long Island farms. A recent set of three, which is part of the summer collection, included Green Thumb Organic Farm, in Watermill, owned by the Halsey Family; Pike Farms, in Sagaponack, owned by Jim Pike; and Foster Farm, in Sagaponack, owned by Marilee Foster. Books include photography from Conor Harrigan, and recipes highlighting farm-fresh produce, in line with each season. The cookbook collections are available for purchase online, through Loaves & Fishes’ online portal.
The farms’ bounty, of course, is also on display in the refrigerated cases and bakery shelves at Loaves & Fishes, where Sybille van Kampen’s delicate touch and seasonally minded approach to cooking still reigns. “I am inspired by ingredients of all kinds,” van Kempen said. “I look to different cultures to see how they use them. I love to taste the freshness of vegetables and fruits straight from the earth: of meat, poultry, and dairy purchased from the farmers.”
A changing weekly menu is always available online at Loaves & Fishes (at present writing: summer borscht, corn chowder, rotisserie ducks, crab cakes, tomato and mozzarella salad, and apricot galettes among the offerings for this week; goat cheese gnocchi, Moroccan lamb stew, tomato leek soup, scallion capellini, and plum tart among the offerings for next). As always, what is available at the local farms leads the way in terms of what is available at the store—the ultimate inspiration for this Bridgehampton stalwart.
As the months progress, more Farm Series Cookbooks will arrive, as gifts we may not have known we needed during this particular moment in time. For those seeking solace in their kitchens, these books are tiny packages of salvation, messages from farms right outside our very doorsteps, along with their own sacred love letters to us: here is what to cook with the very best of what we have to offer, right here and right now.
“Most smaller local farmers have tremendous pride and integrity in their farming methods,” van Kempen said. “The close contact to their families this past year has been one of the most meaningful ventures for me personally; their nobility is infectious.” It is that infectious nobility—to quote van Kempen—that carries on so deliciously through this cookbook series. And, after four decades of giving so much back to the Hamptons, Sybille van Kempen is giving us just one more thing, right when we need it the most.